Tag Archives: Che Guevara

Affections

affections

Affections
By Rodrigo Hasbun
Pushkin Press – £9.99

Every now and then, it does seem as if one is living in both a veritable
vacuum of one’s own making – whether by design, whether by default. And such is most definitely the case with the prime protagonists in this seemingly dark investigation into the human psyche.

Affections is admittedly, an affectionate book so far as (three) sisters’ troubled relationships can be concerned; yet it’s also a scenario of political reportage with regards the Bolivian revolution – in which Che Guevara was captured and murdered (supposedly financed by the US government).

But what I found the most alluring and satisfying about the Bolivian, Rodrigo Hasbun’s overtly convincing novel, was it’s all prevailing, under-written humanity – the subliminal trajectory of which, was never far away: ”I saw my sister everywhere. Not a single day went by when I didn’t see her. If the telephone went, my first reaction was always to think it was her. I bought a dog, and then another. I needed to feel like I had company, that someone was always there waiting for me at home […]. It’s not true that our memory is a safe place. In there, too, things get distorted and lost. In there, too, we end up turning away from the people we love the most.”

Written in such a way that is capable of stopping one in their everyday tracks, these 142 pages, are, if nothing else, poignant, powerful and provocative, as substantiated by El Pais: ”Hasbun’s writing has a strange power. He likes to reach into the darkest places. Reading him is like… a journey to the brink of an abyss.”

It’s no wonder this book is the Winner of an English Pen Award.

David Marx

Cuba

cuba

Cuba – What Everyone Needs To Know
By Julia E. Sweig
Oxford University Press – £10.99

Fidel Castro may have recently departed his beloved island to join his compadre, Che Guevara amid socialist nirvana, but the Cuban idea, the whole shebang, replete with legacy of he who toted many a Cohiba, will no doubt go on Ad infinitum.

Indeed, it will continue, both beneath and within the slipstream of many an economic fable according to Fidel – the trajectory of which will now continue to be promoted by his brother, Raul Castro.

Or will it?

My guess is, it’s way too early to tell.
Although, failing a visit to the island itself, Cuba – What Everyone Needs To Know might well be considered a most fine literary springboard from which to embark the investigation.

Written by Julia E. Sweig, Senior Research Fellow at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas in Austin, it’s a book that really does pack a rather mighty, academic punch.

Divided into twelve very distinct parts (‘Cuba Before 1959,’ ‘The Cuban Revolution and the Cold War, 1959-91,’ ‘U.S.-Cuba,’ ‘Cuba In The World,’ ‘The Cuban Revolution after the Cold War, 1991-2006,’ ‘U.S.-Cuba,’ ‘Cuba In The World,’ ‘After Fidel, under Raul,’ ‘U.S.-Cuba,’ ‘Cuba In The World,’ A Changing Cuba Under Raul Castro’s Presidency’ and ‘December 17, 2014, and Beyond’), Cuba is a most readable thesis on the complex fluidity of an ever changing political process.

It’s 315 pages – excluding the Foreword, Introduction, Suggestions for Further Reading and Index – almost read as a form of Q&A, in which Sweig answers the questions most of us would really like the answers to – well, some of the ones I would anyway.

Such pertinent questions such as:

Why does the United States have a naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
What role did women play in the Cuban insurrection?
Was Castro really a Communist?
Why did Cubans start leaving for exile?
What really happened when Castro visited Washington in 1959?
Why did the Bay of Pigs invasion fail?

And perhaps, the one question which still lingers, still continues to resonate the most:

What was the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Sweig initially responds: ”On October 22, 1962, John F. Kennedy appeared on national television to announce that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy’s dramatic revelations, based on CIA reconnaissance photos of the missile sites, which Ambassador Adlai Stevenson later presented to the United Nations, came in the midst of the most dangerous ”13 days” in the history of the world. Kennedy announced a naval blockade of the island and warned against the consequences of a ”worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouths.”

Written in a style of writing that by far exceeds that of many other books written on and about Cuba; Cuba – What Everyone Needs To Know essentially reiterates what it says on the tin – or in this case, the front cover.

It’s simple prose, is, if anything, an invitation to read, to assimilate, to discover.

As The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has since written: ”For several years, Julia Sweig, America’s premier expert on Cuba, has been my guide for all matters related to this beautiful, cursed, and consequential island nation. This book – economical, information-packed, and exceedingly well-written – is Sweig’s indispensable contribution to our knowledge of Cuba at a particularly tumultuous time in its history.”

Perhaps never more so, than right now.

David Marx

Fighting Over Fidel

fidel

Fighting Over Fidel –
The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution
By Rafael Rojas
Princeton University Press – £24.95

The Moon of the Cuban
Revolution’s gone under
the Laughing Carib-
I told you so!

[…]

What’ll we do for new
hope for the masses now
politics shows its tricks
How should I know?

Communists, Capitalists
play up to the masses
and both are sincere but
Business is slow!

Cut up the world, and
You’ll see the right answer
Words are the weapons,
the weapons must go!

(Allen Ginsberg – in the poem devoted to the closing of Lunes de Revolution)

When I lived in New York, I had the great fortune to interview Allen Ginsberg in his East Village apartment, who, it has to be said, remained true to his inexorable Howl induced, esoteric self.

We discussed everything from the validity of poetry to Bob Dylan (who he admitted was his favourite poet), American politics to William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac to nineteen-fifties/sixties Cuba; the latter of which is more than well assimilated and brought to bear in the fifth chapter of this overtly, eye-opening book, Fighting Over Fidel – The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution.

Aptly entitled ‘Moons of the Revolution,’ author Rafael Rojas traverses the entire trajectory of the Beat Poets fraught relation(s) with Cuba when he writes: ”Many members of the Beat Generation were enamoured with the Cuban Revolution and travelled to the island in order to directly experience its social and political process […]. These were the years (1960-62) when US policies toward Cuba were turning increasingly hostile, as reflected in the American-supported Bay of Pigs invasion, other violent US actions against the Cuban regime, and the Kennedy administration’s subsequent declaration of a trade embargo against the island […].

From his journal notes, we know that Ginsberg came under great pressure during the US hearings against the FPCC at the beginning of the 1960s. That pressure only increased when Castro declared the ”socialist” character of the revolution just hours before the Bay of Pigs invasion. As the revolutionary leaders pronounced their public declarations of Marxist-Leninist ideology, the position of figures like Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, who had defended the Cuban Revolution as standing for another kind of Left, was put in a state of suspense.”

Needless to say, said ‘suspense’ led Ginsberg to write his first critical poem on Cuban socialism, when in December 1961, he penned the following:

Allessandri [sic] of Chile, trickery and oily manners, Castro
     of Cuba, a big cigar and he wants to be a hero too,
He thinks of his name in the future & shuts down the Moons of
     the Revolution.-
The Moon of the Cuban Rebellion’s gone under the laughing
     Carib!

All the above said – which is clearly open to a myriad of interpretation given how things are continuing to pan out in today’s Cuba – these 250 pages (not including Notes, References and Index) sets much of the record as well as the narrative straight; especially so far as the backdrop of the ideological confrontation betwixt the Cold War and the spiky/inevitable breakdown of relations between Havana and Washington are concerned.

As such, from ‘Hipsters and Apparatchiks’ to ‘Socialists in Manhattan,’ from ‘Negroes with Guns’ to ‘The Skin of Socialism,’ Fighting Over Fidel is a superbly written and well put together book. Each and every chapter sheds yet more (profound) significance upon a most turbulent time in recent history, which, in relation to 1960s New York, Rojas wholeheartedly underlines in the book’s Introduction: ”That decade and this city constituted a microcosm of activity whose resonance was felt around the globe. New York in the 1960s was the moment and the place for progressive movements of all kinds: artistic vanguards, women’s liberation, sexual liberation, civil rights, and opposition to the Vietnam War. But these movements and struggles were also privileged scenarios for the emergence and circulation of debates over the ideological identity of Cuban socialism – its truths and its errors, its coincidences and divergences from the Soviet model, its lessons for the Western Left – as well as for the articulation of critiques of US government policy towards Cuba […].

In New York, with its strong liberal and socialist traditions, the Cuban Revolution was discussed as nowhere else, just as the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War had energized the city’s public discourse decades before.”

Just as the very same city (and the UN?) now endeavours to comes to terms with the terrible fiasco that is Brexit – and the potential pulling apart of the European Union. Admittedly, a revolution it might not be (yet), but if current hatred and division is anything to go by – might it be a matter of time?

Either way, Fighting Over Fidel is a terrific read; one I’d highly recommend to anyone remotely interested in Cuban politics. Not to mention the Beat Poets.

David Marx

Prepared For The Worst

hitchens

Prepared For The Worst – Selected Essays and Minority Reports
By Christopher Hitchens
Atlantic Books – £16.99

Apart from the fact that the standard of writing really is second to none, Christopher Hitchens, was, still is, renowned for taking his reader on a lively and most intellectual journey that can only be described as a combination of mordant wit and provocative prowess.

Each of Prepared For The Worst’s five sections is simply uber-jam-packed with the sort of dissectory analysis akin to that of say John Pilger, only without quite so much politicised, social commentary, and perhaps more flair for a variety of subjects that range from Graham Greene to Thomas Paine (”Merely by stating the obvious and sticking to it, Paine had a vast influence on the affairs of America, France, and England. Many critics and reviewers have understated the thoroughness of Paine’s comment, representing him instead as a kind of Che Guevara of the bourgeois revolution”), Pat Robertson to Albert Camus (”Camus had a knack for noticing grotesque things – not just in individuals, but in attitudes”), the questionably unresolved Watergate Scandal to Kim Dae Jung to one of my all time favourite writers, George Orwell, in an overtly thought provoking essay.

Aptly entitled ‘Comrade Orwell’) it begins: ”Orwell has been smothered with cloying approbation by those who would have despised or ignored him when he was alive, and pelted him with smug after-thoughts by those who (often unwittingly or reluctantly) shared the same trenches as he did. The present climate threatens to stifle him in one way or the other.”

This alone sets the literary, semi-politicised pace for what’s to follow, which, for all intents and persuasive purposes, is an essay littered with a number of sentences that are simply tailored made for academic questioning and further analysis:

”Orwell seldom wrote about foreigners, except sociologically, and then in a hit-or-miss fashion otherwise unusual to him; he very rarely mentions a foreign writer and has an excessive dislike of foreign words; although he condemns imperialism he dislikes its victims even more.,” – Discuss.

”It would be dangerous to blind ourselves to the fact that in the West millions of people may be inclined, in their anguish and fear, to flee from their own responsibility for mankind’s destiny and to vent their anger and despair on the giant Bogey-cum-Scapegoat which Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four has done so much to place before their eyes.,” Discuss.

”He was a materialist and a secularist – particularly hostile to the Roman Catholic heresy – but had a great reverence for tradition and for liturgy.,” – Discuss.

As Hitchens himself contends of this superb collection of essays: ”I suppose that, if this collection has a point, it is the desire of one individual to see the idea of confrontation kept alive.” And who, with the possible exceptions of George Osborne and those who work in either insurance or advertising, would want to argue with such razor induced profundity?

Prepared For The Worst is a terrific book and first of a number of Christopher Hitchens books I shall be reviewing in the near future.

David Marx

One Million Cows

crows

One Million Cows
By Manuel Rivas
Small Stations Press – £5.69

”Like an irate prophet” (‘The Sons of Luc & Fer’), the one and only Manuel Rivas writes of a great many issues throughout these eighteen, short snappy stories. And in so doing, transports the reader unto many a place of kaleidoscopic (mis)adventure.

Indeed, amid much virtuous and virulent metaphor, One Million Crows finds Galicia’s most renowned, international writer (whose previous books include The Carpenter’s Pencil, In The Wilderness, All Is Silence and perhaps one of my all time favourite books ever written, Books Burn Badly), addressing everything from the mud-flats of childhood to the redolent aftermath of suicide.

But from within this ”bell of memory” (‘Madonna (Christmas Story)’), the one story that essentially strikes home is ‘The Provincial Artist;’ which, by way of well-considered angst and periodic play on capital letters, the author writes: ”’There is in Spain,’ declared the critic Bernabe Candela, ‘nature and metaphysics, passion and biology, reflection and outbursts, and it is well known there is no beauty without rebellion, even if that convulsion is contained by the prudent nets of reason.”

There has to be an abundance of gravitas in the line: ”there is no beauty without rebellion,” which, if you really think about it, transports the rebellious etiquette of someone like Che Guevara to within striking distance a whole new tenet of thinking. Not to mention understanding; or ”the prudent nets of reason,” from where Rivas continues: ”Espina may be a wonderful symbiosis, that of the monster awaiting the end of the century.’ He read this article in the old slaughterhouse while peeling open a tin of mussels. His first reaction of complacent vanity was followed by a sense of disquiet and unease. Up until then, hardly anybody had paid him any attention.”

The above is so compact and colourful, so dense and at times, disparaging; that I found myself increasingly caught up or should I say, intrinsically lost within the actual essence of the writing itself, as opposed to that of the story being told.

Like so much of his work, the stories Manuel Rivas tells, could, for many, be construed as something of an added bonus. It’s the actual writing that’s so alluring. So attractive.

David Marx